The construction of India’s largest deep draft port, near Vadhavan Beach, has been given the go-ahead by the Dahanu Taluka Environment Protection Authority. However, this decision has been met with criticism from environmentalists and locals who argue that it goes against the eco-sensitive zone regulations and lacks legal precedence in the region. The port is considered crucial for the future, as it is necessary to prevent price gouging by the nearby Mundra port after the year 2028.
The Dahanu eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) was established in 1991, and its rules prohibiting large-scale development have remained unchanged. This stance was reaffirmed by the Authority in 2017.
The project had stalled after 1998 but was revived in 2015 when a joint effort was made by the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPA) and the Maharashtra Maritime Board, which led to the formation of a special purpose vehicle.
In April 2020, concerns surrounding the project were amplified when the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) reclassified ports, harbors, and jetties as “industrial activities.” However, two months later, the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEFCC) clarified that such activities could be permitted in eco-sensitive areas, including the Dahanu ESZ.
The decision to allow the port’s construction led to local opposition, culminating in a National Green Tribunal (NGT) order in June 2021 that halted any further work on the planning and construction of the port. The NGT also directed the MoEFCC to form an expert committee to reevaluate whether ports and harbors could be allowed as non-industrial activities within ecologically fragile regions. This order has been challenged in the Supreme Court by the National Fish Workers’ Forum, the original applicant in the case, and the JNPA.